Will Burlington protest buffer zone hurt neighboring businesses? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Will Burlington protest buffer zone hurt neighboring businesses?

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It's a battle between free speech and access to care. A small group of protestors religiously show up outside of Burlington's Planned Parenthood. They're opposed to the abortions performed there.

"We care," said Rita Mantone, a protester. "We just want to hand them information. We want to be a quiet prayer witness. We're not here to aggravate."

But staffers at the clinic say some protestors follow and intimidate the women trying to seek care.

"If we have one patient who stops and doesn't come in to get tested for HIV because they feel intimidated by a protester, that's one too many," said Jill Krowinski of Planned Parenthood.

A few months ago Planned Parenthood petitioned the city to establish a buffer zone. On Monday, in a 13-1 vote, city councilors approved an ordinance that would keep protestors 35 feet from all reproductive health facilities in the city. The safety zone doesn't go into effect until Aug. 15, but demonstrators say the city told them it started Wednesday.

"The City Council has been not very interested in helping us understand the law," said Agnes Clift, a protester.

Thirty-five feet from Planned Parenthood's front door would put the protestors in the middle of the street. So the alternative is to go 35 feet up the green belt, putting the protesters right in front of a neighboring business.

"It creates a lot of tension in front of the salon," said Don O'Connell, who owns the neighboring business, O'M.

"We have always told the people who own this business that we would not stand in front of their business because they've asked us not to," Clift said. "And they're pretty angry that we're standing here. We don't want to be offending anybody."

But demonstrators say the ordinance has left them without a choice, especially since standing across the street is not something they're willing to do.

"It puts us out of reach of the client," Clift said.

But O'Connell now worries about his clients and the commotion outside his door.

"I'm not here for a holy war or a belief war. I'm here for the good of my salon and my business," O'Connell said. "Every one of my clients has to at least walk by or through the protesting."

An ordinance that pushes his neighbor's problems closer is not something he thinks is fair. But as long as the demonstrators aren't blocking his door, police say they can't force them to put down the cameras or stop the praying.

Planned Parenthood says they want to make sure their neighbors are comfortable with the zone.

Before the ordinance goes into effect the city will post signs clearly marking the zone.

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